Nicolas Cage is staging a comeback with his role in the startling dramatic thriller, Joe, which screened at SXSW Sunday, March 9.

Joe first premiered at the Venice Film Festival last year and was also screened at the Toronto International Film Festival, where Cage has slowly been building buzz for his intense performance. Admittedly, Cage has become somewhat of a Hollywood punch line recently, what with his many legal problems, including owing millions to the IRS in back taxes, and his drunken arrest in 2011. Add to that a string of unsuccessful and relatively unseen B-movies, such as The Frozen Ground (2013) and Stolen (2012), and Cage has all but become a parody of himself. With the success of Joe, Cage seems to have finally found a good project.

In Joe, based on the novel by Larry Brown, Cage has the title role of Joe Ransom, an ex-con who is struggling to keep his anger issues in check and stay out of trouble. When a 15-year-old boy, Gary, comes to him for a job, Joe finds himself becoming Gary’s mentor and ends up entangled in Gary’s rough family life, where his drunken father is constantly beating him and pimping out his sister for money for alcohol. Directed by David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche, Pineapple Express), Joe has earned buzz for its fearless performances, most notably from the film’s three leads, Cage, Tye Sheridan (who plays Gary) and Gary Poulter (who portrays Gary’s abusive father).

Green has praised Cage, saying that he was nothing at all like the pretentious Hollywood star one might expect.

“When you get involved in a professional relationship with a movie star you never know what’s going to show up – whether or not he’s going to lock himself in his trailer. With Cage, I was relieved to find a guy who knew everybody on the crew’s name and learned about their jobs from them and was involved in the process,” Green said in an interview.

Furthermore, Green said, he was impressed with Cage’s willingness to let himself go onscreen, calling him “fearless”:

“When you let him loose, you find unexpected things,” Green said. “He could handle a venomous cottonmouth snake without protection. That showed me an actor that was fearless. If it was appropriate for the role or his character, he would get in that mind-set and he could do anything – he would do anything. There’s a beauty to that.”

17-year-old Tye Sheridan is also earning praise from critics and viewers, living up to his already growing reputation as an actor from his previous roles in The Tree of Life and Mud. In interviews, Cage and Sheridan have spoken positively about working together as they promote their film.

“I think Nic’s just an easy person to get along with…For me anyways,” Sheridan joked at the Venice International Film Festival.

Both Sheridan and Cage were on hand Sunday night to talk about Joe at SXSW, and Monday, Cage and Green held an event to talk about the film – with not an empty seat in sight.

(Courtesy of timnoakes Instagram)

SXSW is hosting an additional screening of Joe Thursday, March 13. Joe will be released in theaters on April 11.

Olivia Truffaut-Wong

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